Kitchen Essentials: Making Stock

Homemade Chicken Stock

When I was starting out in the kitchen, I was convinced that I was missing something. While I could follow a recipe without too much trouble and only a modicum of charring, anything I tried to make from scratch tended to turn out flavourless and drab. Any comparisons I tried to make between the meals I made at home, and those I had at decent restaurants inevitably left me with a sense of disappointment. It was nothing that an extra bottle of wine wouldn’t fix, but for a long time I wondered: what’s the secret?

A decade later, I’ve discovered that, while there isn’t any magic behind making a good meal, there certainly are some things that can elevate ‘ordinary’ cooking to at least the lower rungs of haute cuisine. Perhaps the most important of these is also the simplest: stock.

I make my own stock whenever I can – it’s easy, and it gives you an essential ingredient that you can use over and over again in the kitchen. Stock is useful in braising liquid, in soups and stews, as a sauce base, in risottos, and in all kinds of recipes for almost everything. It’s hard to find a decent store-bought stock at a low price, and it’s also tricky to find out where the animals (or vegetables) that led to the stock came from. While it would be nice to have stocks of all varieties on hand, it’s very useful to have at least a couple of basic varieties in your fridge or freezer.

There are slightly different techniques behind making various types of stocks – some, like chicken stock, are simple, while others, like lobster stock, can be trickier and require some unusual techniques. Let’s start with the simplest one, and the one I make most often, chicken stock:

Ridiculously Easy Chicken Stock

1. Take the bones from a roast chicken, with all of the meaty bits an cartilage attached, and put them in a stock pot. Fill the pot with cold water until the bones are covered (plus an inch or so).

2. Cook on the stovetop at the lowest simmer you can get for about 10 hours. If you’re not going to be home, you can also throw the (ovenproof) stock pot into the oven and cook it at about 200F for a whole day.

3. Toss some chopped vegetables into the pot. Which vegetables you use are up to you, but stay away from anything strong-flavoured like green peppers. I usually use a carrot or two, some celery, and an onion, and some garlic cloves along with a handful of herbs like parsley, thyme, bay leaf. I also use about 5-10 cracked peppercorns.

4. Cook for another hour, then strain out all the bones and vegetables. Pass the stock through a cheese cloth to get rid of any of the smaller bits and to make sure the stock is nice and clear.


Chicken stock will last in the fridge for a week (bring it to a boil again before cooking with it), or it can be frozen to be used whenever you please. Some people freeze it in ice cube trays to leave nice small portions that can be used over and over again.

Almost all meat stocks are variations on this same easy method. Pork, beef & veal stocks tend to use roasted or blanched bones – depending on the strength of flavour desired. Vegetable stock is quick and easy – just start at step 3! I’m going to leave fish, lobster and prawn stocks for another post – but think twice before you through out your fish bones and crustacean shells…

Top image from Flickr user Merelymel13


6 Responses to “Kitchen Essentials: Making Stock”

  1. Posted on February 4th, 2009

    Great post Jer. I totally swear by the notion that good stock is the key to good food. Anthony Bourdain has an excellent recipe in his book The Nasty Bits which I use as a base for my own stock. He recommends roasting the vegetables as well as the bones which really helps to bring out more complex flavours. I augment his more purist stance with a Parmesan rind and a little pancetta if I have it around. And I always go part of the way towards a demi glace by adding a half bottle of red wine after straining and then boiling it down some more (I don’t go as far as making it thick like a demi glace…i strive for volume). Once done, I do the ice cube tray thing and then transfer to ziplocks, labelled “flavour boosters”, to be thrown as singles or doubles, into almost any dish that I see fit.

  2. Posted on February 5th, 2009

    Excellent post indeed. Two tips:

    1. If you have a roasted chicken and no time to make stock, freeze it for later, and
    2. Another trick to storing stock in the freezer is once you put it into a ziplock bag and remove the excess air, lay it on a flat surface in the freezer. You get nice flat packages that store neatly and efficiently. Good way to keep even more stock at the ready.

  3. Posted on February 6th, 2009 is my new evening inspiration!

    I realize now that there are different gradations of foodist, but really we all beckon to the great equalizer; taste! Although I never have them around, adding chicken feet to the recipe does add a wonderful element to it. It is a palpable difference, and as long as you can get past the stigma that feet have been assigned, your mouth and tummy will thank you!

    Remember to coat them in fresh ground salt, then boil them first. Some prefer to cut off the claws, others don’t. One thing is for sure that you will notice the more luxurious, full bodied taste.

    Way to go!!!

  4. Posted on February 6th, 2009

    Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    Over the years I’ve learned that a real key par of the process is to make sure the heat stays low for a long period of time. This definitely results in a more complex and flavourful stock.

    I live 2 blocks from Chinatown, so I have no problem finding feet.

    I can also very easily get roosters, which not only are the right bird for Coq au Vin, but also impart a stronger and more chicken-y flavour to stock.

  5. Posted on February 8th, 2009

    Yes, if you wonder why pasta or vegetables taste better at a restaurant, it’s probably the chicken stock. Oh, and the butter and salt. These count, too.

    For any red meat based stock, a portion of balsamic at the beginning helps the end product a lot. After all, what is balsamic but red wine? The acidity and inherent sweetness of the vinegar help to balance out the end product, and adds nice colour. Kind of like Kitchen Bouquet, without the crap.

  6. Posted on February 10th, 2009

    Fun! I love stock. So overlooked, so integral.

    Things I learned in cooking school:
    1. Light stocks kept at a rolling simmer only need about 3 hours to extract full flavour. Fish stocks get icky if they have more, chicken is fine but doesn’t improve much.
    2. An amazing brown stock can be made by roasting chicken bones. Good sub for veal stock.
    3. Roast beef bones and mirepoix together, smearing some tomato paste on the bones, for extra flavour.
    4. Skimming is good.
    5. Every kitchen needs cheesecloth.

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